By Daniel Doogan
What is the future going to be for public sector collective bargaining in Montana? And if collective bargaining for our public sector is repealed by an anti-union legislature how will that affect the remaining private sector unions? The reason I ask is simple. There is a widely held belief amongst labor leaders and labor friendly politicians here that if any state workers dared to go out on strike the risk of losing their rights to have a union in the current political environment is far too great. So I ask, if that’s true then when should a public sector union employee ever exercise his/her legal right to go on strike?
In all my years as a Teamster I have always understood that the vast majority of strikes are brought on by hostile and unreasonable employers and not by greedy union members as many would like to believe. The same is true whether the employer is in the private or public sector. From our perspective, the perspective of a working person, the source of the revenue for payroll truly makes no difference. Taxpayer’s money is not a sacred cow. In fact the opposite is true under prevailing wage laws that require private contractors who perform work using public funds (taxpayer’s money) to pay prevailing wages and benefits which are usually greater than they pay on non-prevailing wage work. The perfectly logical rationale for this requirement is that public funds (taxpayer’s money) used to award work to private businesses in a competitive bid process should not have the undesirable effect of forcing down the worker’s wages and benefits in order to get the lowest bid. This same rationale should be applied to public sector employees directly.
If the quality of the jobs in the public sector is driven down then it will undoubtedly be reflected in the reduced quality of similar private sector jobs. In fact I believe this is the ultimate goal of many so called business friendly politicians out there.
The ability of an employer to raise revenue in order to meet labor costs is met with similar considerations in both the private and public sector, whether it comes in the form of cutting other costs, raising prices or taxes or improving efficiencies, productivity and production. What matters most to Teamsters is improving the quality of our jobs and maintaining that quality once it is achieved.
Over the years I have seen time and again our members’ willingness to make great sacrifices to preserve their jobs during tough times. It is still happening today most notably in the freight industry and at Hostess Brands/IBC. In the public sector the ultimatum is often expressed in terms of a choice between no real wage and benefit increases or layoffs, take your pick. Our members all too often accept unsatisfactory wage adjustments, pay more out of pocket for their benefits and settle for less than they hoped for usually without a fight.
It is not hard for seasoned Teamster negotiators and the rank and file membership they represent to recognize the difference between an employer that needs relief in order to turn things around and an irresponsible anti-Union employer that has no respect for its own workforce. The public sector is not immune to either type. So I say again if state workers cannot strike for fear of losing their collective bargaining rights then in effect those rights only exist on paper. The futures of our private sector and public sector jobs are inextricably tied when it comes down to maintaining quality jobs. No one can justify the argument that public employees should be denied the right to form a union simply because the taxpayer pays their wages. State legislators can be every bit as hostile and anti-worker as their private sector counterparts (often times they are the same person).
Workers need the ability to counter these attacks by having the right to join together and form a Union for mutual aid and protection be it in the private sector or the public sector workplace. We must stand up and stop the War on Workers. Only then will our future and our children’s futures be bright and secure.